It’s exciting to be where I can break down the Storyverse builder mechanics for teams, and individual creators. In the first attempts to work through the method with individuals, I could see their eyes glazing over—so it took some finagling to put it into a more digestible process.
Still, these courses are not beginner worldbuilding courses and workbooks. They require a basic understanding of narrative structure, and a fundamental awareness of standard worldbuilding practices. Essentially, these tools pick up where a lot of the other resources leave off—where the main-stream educational platforms and materials send writers off to do the thing.
But what if you’re a creator doing the thing, and realize there’s so much more that wasn’t covered and you’re fumbling around looking for the matrix key to unlock greater interdependencies to bring your work to broader scope, scale, and audiences?
Here’s an introduction video link to Mandalic Storyverse Construction. Workbooks and workshops for pre-order soon.
Best question ever from longtime friend and reader, Sharon. “If you had known the absolute mess you were getting yourself into at the beginning of this journey, would you have gone down this path?”
“Oh, good question! I don’t know. There are so many other rewarding aspects, I want to say yes.... but I would have prepared differently, and stocked up on more alcohol.”
The really funny part is that 2 years ago when I first decided to do this, Mark had asked me to write down my goals so he could help me stay on target. “Pick one that’s really out there, so you can surprise yourself or have something to reach for.”
It took two years, but we landed at that goal at the end of 2023. What happens next is anyone’s guess. I didn’t plan that far out.
I just wanted the full Storyverse for The Life Erotic, and The Pillars of Dawn to be considered for build out. The Life Erotic is smaller, more nimble and easier to move around, easier to place (I mean, aside from the sexy content issues.)
But POD… POD is a behemoth of a storyverse. It’s… massive, complex and cumbersome. It’s not a small world. Mark did his level best to help me trim it down, streamline it, make is smaller and more packageable. God bless him. More fruit baskets for Mark!
The truth is the POD storyverse was never made to be small or agile, nimble or easy to move. We always knew it would take a very specific kind of visionary studio and production team to see the POD Storyverse for what it is, and in a perfect world, they would want to play in it.
I get to play in it every day, so, I wasn’t worried about it. Not really. I mean. Okay. Maybe I was a little worried. One of my early conversations with him in the adaptation was, “I don’t know where to start—there’s so much story I can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s three worlds, ten primary characters, all their cohorts, 36 secondary characters and all the subplots, timelines, and like 172 ancillary characters, plus all the lore, histories, worldbuilding documents, pre-story prep and engines, woven throughout the Mandalic Story Structure. It’s a full Universe.”
He gave me some exercises to help me focus on which parts were the most important, and which parts to exclude because, “execs don’t care about that shit.”
Ah. Great way to start. No one cares about the 43 chapters of LORE?? Good to know.
It’s twenty years’ worth of build, some still in totes and stored on hard drives. My big stretch-goal, the pie in the sky wish, was to just have it considered as a whole universe at least once before allowing it to be chopped up and sold for parts.
The mini-version we built was still immensely satisfying and checked all the boxes for me to feel artistically contented. If we sell that smaller, compact version—I will still be greatly relieved and deeply humbled to be able to send POD out to a larger audience. However, there’s still that knowledge in the back of my mind that POD was designed to be so much more. It was made to be expansive enough to live within for a decade or more of mined material, and all the scoped transmedia materials to match. It was made to compete as an entertainment universe.
Again, not worried. Well… maybe a little.
Between the last two years of learning ropes and picking up the processes, I’ve pushed myself to learn how THEY do it. What is their process? What is their model? Which PMP steps are they most reliant on? And so forth. Workshops, classes, paid coaching, tutorials, private consults, books, pitch practices and more so I could at least sort of understand what was being talked about in the meetings I’m sitting in regarding my material.
Cross-train as much as possible, always. I will always advocate for this. If you’re a creative—learn other creative methods and mediums, so when you can see a gap or an opening, you can hold up the beam and buy some time for a bridge to be built. Also, in this case, I took a showrunning course so I would know how to be a better partner, supporter, and collaborator with the showrunners. That’s just courtesy. It’s on my end to make that stretch, not theirs. (Emmy winner, Gregori Martin, is the showrunner for TLE, and he's marvelous! We don't have a showrunner yet for POD, but I have high hopes!)
They will have their hands full learning a new universe and managing teams. It’s not their job to come to me. It’s my job to go to them, and to help hold up the tent while they take in the volume of the build and get oriented. (I built it, so I already know where everything is, and where all the bodies are buried.)
I’m excited to know what happens next! Curiosity is mixed with glowing humility and a warm tingling bubble of creativity I’m trying desperately to keep in check. It’s like the volcanic center that keeps my creative pilot light on just KNOWS bigger, more expansive space is about to open up for the next layer of creation and my engine is SO READY TO BUILD BIGGER! It takes effort to keep the build contained for the moment.
It’s work every day to find things for my brain to focus on so I don’t run ahead and keep ripping the trail. Wait. Wait for the cue to cut more trail, Athena. Wait for the next okay to build out, up, and across the chasm. It’s coming.
I have to remind myself I will get to build more—but for now, there’s some waiting that needs to happen. In the meantime, I can get back to my books and clear out some of those totes.
Do I hope to bring all that world and story to new audiences? Totally.
Do I hope they’ll have as much fun with it as I do? Absolutely.
Would I have planned better if I’d known what I was walking into two years ago? Yep. I would have gotten a wine delivery membership, and added chocolate to my Amazon pantry subscription. But, you live, you learn.
Then again, I supposed it’s never too late for wine or chocolate--- who knows what the next two years will look like….
Holy moly, I had no idea I was going to have such a great time explaining Storyverse construction! I could do this all day long and still never run out of breath. World builders unite! Yes, please sign me up for more workshops!
The joy of working in storyverse modeling is the ability to blow out huge section of lore, lay timelines, and stack constructs to up to the eyeballs—then watch a well-developed character ping around the universe like a pinball activating more stories and off-shoots as they go.
The key is in the stackable constructs. Layering hierarchy is a laborious process in the beginning, because a fictional hierarchy of constructs is not always the same as our human/real world hierarchy.
However, sometimes the most common constructs of our current world are pulled laterally into the storyverse build… we can’t help it. I do it all the time. Good examples of this are all the isms. If it’s an ism in this world, think twice, maybe even three times, before it becomes a copy & paste construct into your storyverse.
For sure, some is good. It helps keep things relatable and “recognizable” to a majority audience, but too many duplicate or pull-through constructs and you’re not in genre fiction anymore.
In the end, as I’m explaining, diagraming, and building out POD for others to follow along— we get to drift through layers of constructs, activate gears and levels, toggle timelines and kick the tires. It’s been a blast!
Ideally, a well-built storyverse is a playground, a park full of instruments, tools, toys, and playground equipment that has a solid fence (guardrail) and a chaperone. Then, when that area is mapped, and all the exploratory creative equipment has been laid out, it’s a handoff to the next teams who will be developing scripts (streaming and film), graphic novels, games and more. The trans-media side of the development plans cannot happen if we’re not all working with the same core engines, storyverse laws, and guardrails. But once they get all that, and can speak the language comfortably—I get to pop off and have a margarita and let the kids play. Okay, two margaritas.
Anywhoo, testing out the workbook pages, and the diagrams on people has been a wonderful experience. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to be able to build out these worlds for others to play in.
As 2023 wraps and 2024 looms, I’m just sitting in my feels that others are able to get in and play in the universes for POD and TLE and that these imaginary realms will not be alone with me any longer.
Finally… they are going home to audiences where they belong.
Winter is my usual writing season. The last few years of adaptation work to move my books into a streaming formats for shopping have happened mostly over the winter months, which means I didn’t have my usual snuggle-into-novel-writing-time. Crossing my fingers I get some good novel writing time in this winter. I’m hungry for it. Aching, actually. Anyone in my company too long can probably pick up on the twitchy desire to get back to my desk.
Don’t get me wrong, the adaptation stuff is fun. A blast, actually, but it’s a different set of building tools and an alternate set of muscles. A collaboration stretch is needed to bridge the gap between my brainpan and the team—and because most of the worlds for The Pillars of Dawn and The Life Erotic are still lodged in my noggin, it can feel like people (even people I like) crawling around in my mental space, dusting things up, and refiling my system that I had just the way I liked it so it will all still fit in my gray matter. It can be intrusive and exhausting some days. It’s unavoidable. The people in my skull pulling out the materials for world build are all very polite, courteous, and patient with me—but it feels like the kindest strangers re-organizing my mental underwear drawer and very kindly not looking at my ratty period panties.
It’s a very intimate process. More so as I’ve been solo and isolated for so many years. It can sometimes feel abrasive, vulnerable and itchy.
I need a lot of naps or quiet time to refresh from having other people in thoughts.
If I could give any piece of advice to my younger self, or to any other world builders out there—don’t keep the bulk of your world-building data in your brainpan. A head cold, or a round of sneezes sets off all kinds of re-org issues. Plus, when it comes time to collaborate, then you’re pulling brain data and importing it into computer systems for others to understand, and they don’t have your mental shorthand notes for reference.
Use an exterior, or alternate backup space for your build. There are a dozen great programs to help sort and store your world builds.
The wiki builds for The Pillars of Dawn and The Life Erotic are both designed in Mandalic Storyverse Structure.
What does that mean?
Let’s be honest, I just made it up. It’s not a real thing—UNLESS you believe, like I do, that story as medium, as a wave of creation energy never actually ends. It is limitless potential until given a new shape. Story is energy that persists, regenerates.
We’re taught that story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Tada! Complete. Now you may go about your day and live your best life.
But really, if you go about your day, and live your best life, you are in fact—continuing the story. A well-told story now lives in you as a reader, or viewer or participant. You cannot be what you were before.
This is why fearful people ban books.
Mandalic Storyverse is the creation of story universes, interlocking, supportive, interdependent filaments of ideas that inform patterns and build ever-expanding spaces in which to house star clusters and galaxies of stories all of which are expressed through a library of mediums. Stories within stories within stories—forever.
We’re conditioned to this with the MCU or DCU and other franchises that have “Universe” in the description.
The difference being that their CORE structure never solidified and their builds are so flexible and changeable that they slide all over the place. Audience timeline sickness, and story waffling makes for loss of trust and eventual sameness in the build. As audience, we are watching as those universes fold back in on themselves and go through re-boot after re-boot, despite the reality that audiences are already bored of it, and have lost faith in the core.
The CORE in a Mandalic Storyverse is the hard construct (the heart, bones, brain), the pieces that cannot and should not be broken. Often this is considered to be the timeline, but I disagree. The core is always the frame/soul of your build—the mandala forms around that core and the storyverse populates and shoots out from those primary points of soul matter. Without it, the storyverse will eventually hit a tipping point under its own weight and fold inward. A Mandalic Storyverse built around a heart will die when that core truth is compromised.
Mandalic Storyverse structure allows for perpetual expansion and growth with the framework established. GENERATIONAL STORYTELLING and BUILDING. Thus as the audience grows and evolves socially, spiritually, and the collective pool of knowledge, education, and global ideas SHIFT, the storyverse can shift and grow WITH the audience without needing to constantly be rebooted to catch up to new audience trends, needs, desires or pace of understanding— because it is built in advance to be able to grow and stretch to those needs without compromising the core.
A Mandalic Storyverse BREATHES. It learns. It imagines. It anticipates. It is a narrative form of intelligence that creates active bridges to new forms of creativity, energy, and the human adventure through our shared experience and evolving consciousness. It is not AI, because it has a soul, and it is fostered, nurtured and protected by human creatives for other human creatives. (We can argue about AI souls and singularity on another thread with some bourbon, yeah?)
And when a branch, or a galaxy of stories within the Mandalic Storyverse has bloomed, shone, and it is time for it to spread its seeds and winter—those seeds germinate new galaxies with the core heart, and carry the new tales forward. Just as in real life, right?
Mandalic Storyverse is the most closely related structure I know to life and how we live. In terms of a gendering, I often refer to this structure as “feminine” because of its natural mothering and birthing capacity to expand. It is the story that keeps generating, keeps nurturing, keeps sheltering, keeps homing and so on.
Whereas the standard three-act structure we’re most familiar with in the Western world is typically a one and done. A rinse repeat. It can begin to feel formulaic and linear, a driving force that loses its momentum at the infamous “dark night of the soul” mid-second act, only to rally and finish. (then light a cigarette, or take a nap)
We could go down a rabbit hole here of Joseph Campbell’s work and the hero’s journey, but that would be forty pages of rant. Love him. Love the work, but it’s missing 50% of the story.
That other 50% is found in a mandalic pattern, a generational build—not just generational “telling” but the build itself. I would argue even that those “hearts” of three act structures, of those single shot stories are seeds from a larger Mandalic Storyverse, and we have been taught only to see, hear, and believe in one seed at a time. *I’ll spare the longer version of this*
Anywhoo, that’s a very long way of saying, one of the greatest challenges of building in a Mandalic Storyverse Structure and then trying to adapt for television is converting that SCOPE, SCALE, CAPACITY, and POTENTIAL down into a single shot story so others can grasp it and convert it into usable material for an audience that’s conditioned to three-act, and is expecting a three-act. (Though I would argue, the streaming capacity to develop and house larger Storyverses and world-builds is feeding an audience with a new hunger for those bigger builds—people/ audiences want to live in these Storyverses and it’s showing in the data.)
My storyverse has been living and developing alone in my brain space for over twenty-years. Moving it to a more digestible format for audiences has been tricky. Mark Heidelberger has been a gift from the heavens for helping me focus on one point at a time rather than trying to download all my mental files at once. Dude has the freakin’ patience of a saint.
Note to self: Send Mark a fruit basket.
There’s really no wrong way to do a world build. Each one is specific to the work, to the idea or the story that will be housed or carried by the build. I like to think that the more diverse our world-building methods as artists, the more eclectic and magnificently grand our human experience will be.
So as I tuck in for some winter writing and world-building with mulled wine by the fire. I wish you all a happy holiday season, and all the adventures of your most courageous world-building plans.
Athena lives and writes in the Siuslaw Forest, Oregon.